By Yasmin Noone
The federal government will amend the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Bill to make it clear: people who join the scheme early in life will not get shut out of the system when they turn 65 years old.
Announced by team Gillard yesterday, the government proposes a number of amendments, including a clarification that all NDIS participants will be able to choose to remain in the scheme after they turn 65.
The move follows a government back flip on a previous decision, originally outlined in the NDIS Bill, to cancel people’s disability benefits after they turn 65 and move to the aged care system.
The clarification is said to have been issued to provide certainty to disability advocacy and support groups which expressed concern that an NDIS cut-off point could also cut off funding for disability services to those aged 65 years and over, not on the scheme.
The new bill will also clearly state that people with a disability who need early intervention therapies and supports, including for degenerative conditions, will be able to access the NDIS as long as they are not better served by other systems.
Existing services for older Australians, such as hearing and vision services, that complement the assistance available through aged care will also continue to provide supports to people who develop a disability after age 65.
The amendments come as good news to various groups worried about the possibility of members losing disability support services in their older years.
The blindness community said it welcomed the reform proposals and was involved in various consultations leading up to the announcement.
“This is a huge step forward towards a seamless interface between the NDIS and aged care which covers disability services for older Australians,” said Chair of Australian Blindness Forum, Dan English.
Muscular Dystrophy Australia’s (MDA) executive director, Boris M Struk, said he was “rejoicing” in the amendments.
“I am very pleased with the government’s decision to review and, in turn, terminate the plan to cancel people’s disability benefits after they turn 65, as was originally outlined in the new National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS),” said Mr Struk.
“It would be inhumane to cut off these individuals from government support just because they reached their 65th birthday, where in fact, achieving that milestone should be something that is celebrated.”
But not everyone is as pleased with the government move. Seniors lobby group – National Seniors Australia – has attacked the Commonwealth for the 65-year-old age NDIS cut off point, which it says amounts to age discrimination.
National Seniors chief executive, Michael O’Neill, said an arbitrary figure plucked out of thin air will exclude older Australians with severe disabilities from the NDIS.
“Acquire a severe disability at 64 and you’ll be covered for life; acquire exactly the same disability at age 65 and you’ll be shunted into the second-rate user-pays aged care system,” Mr O’Neill said.
“There is no basis for this figure”.
According to the Department of Health and Ageing, in 2008-09 the average age of entry into a nursing home for women was 84.3 and rising.
National Seniors said this 20 year difference between date of entry into a facility and the NDIS cut-off suggests that the distinction between age-related (aged care appropriate) and non-age-related (NDIS appropriate) disability may not prove as blurred as we are led to believe.
“Today’s 65-year-olds are in good health and, increasingly, in full-time employment. They’re still paying taxes, raising and supporting families, volunteering and adding to the rich fabric of their local communities.
“Should they be suddenly struck down by a severe disability, their children and grandchildren, more than anyone else, will grapple to understand why mum or grandpa is denied the help given to other Australians.
“The user-pays aged care system, where, through this exclusion, these people will be consigned, is no place for them.
“It is ill-equipped, understaffed and now, at the early stages of reform, in a greater state of flux than ever before.
“In this election year, the age limit will speak volumes about Labor’s attitude towards older Australians.”
Consumer advocacy group, COTA Australia, said that while it has always supported the NDIS, it does not support the age 65 cut-off point.
It said it welcomes stronger legislative clarity around the “right” of people on the NDIS who turn 65 to continue on NDIS, and people with deteriorating conditions on the NDIS in need of early intervention and support.
But, the organisation firmly believes that people should not have to choose between the NDIS and aged care – they should be able to use elements as both as most appropriate to their assessed needs.
“We do not support the choice argument,” Mr Yates told the Community Affairs Legislation Committee on the NDIS Bill 2012, held early last week.
“We think that you ought to continue with your NDIS support, as long as that is appropriate, and add appropriate aged-care supports as and when they are needed. I would say that, in particular, we are also conscious of the issue raised in the previous session about aids and equipment.
“We think that is inadequate across the aged-care system anyway. In that respect, we belong to the national alliance called [NACA]. We are also active in the ‘Living Longer. Living Better‘ aged care reforms to raise aids and equipment in the aged care system.”
“…We think that different approaches ought to be trialled in the trials that are coming up, and I think the system needs to have flexibility that recognises that some people will benefit from NDIS support with some aged care, but others will benefit from good aged care with additional supplements, which is an issue that was also raised in the submission.”
The Productivity Commission recommended an age-65 threshold for entry to the NDIS, on the basis that people should get the care they need in the aged care and the disability care systems and that there should not be duplication between the two.
The NDIS has bipartisan support and will happen regardless which party wins the federal government election in September.